In many ancient cultures, spring represents a new beginning – a time for cleansing and renewal that sets the rest of the year in motion. Its arrival brings a new season of growth to all living things on earth. There is a sense of rejuvenation and reawakening, as many creatures end their hibernation and new life rises upward out of the earth. While winter is a time to conserve energy, reduce activity and reflect by going inward, spring is a time of rebirth that is ripe for physical and emotional transformation.
In Chinese medicine, human beings are viewed as microcosms of the larger, natural universe, subject to the same seasonal cycles that occur in nature. Spring is a time of rebirth, sudden growth, and rapid expansion. Vital force pushes life to the surface, bursting through the quiescent confinement of winter. A crescendo of excitement builds as the life process reawakens. One day, nature appears gray and lifeless. The next day, sunbeams cast warm light upon branches that are brimming with buds.
The Chinese look to nature for insight into the energetic momentum that surrounds us and strive to behave similarly. Spring is the time of year when newly formed buds on the trees double in size daily, expressing nature’s determination and creativity. Similarly, we too should engage in activities that put our determination, creativity and innate intelligence into motion. Just as seeds sprout and flowers push through the hard earth to bloom, so too should we challenge our self-imposed boundaries to drive positive change and personal growth in our own lives. Not surprisingly, perhaps, the Chinese associate the explosive energy and new growth of spring with the element of Wood. The season of renewal compels us to engage in uplifting and creative activity that expands our energy and consciousness.
Spring is also a time for metamorphosis during which our horizon widens and our energies mushroom. Whatever resources have been stored during the darkness of winter are now ready to use as we tap into the primal surge that accompanies this time of new beginnings. Now is the perfect time to find the drive to initiate and execute projects that have been contemplated, but not yet begun. Spring is a creative, powerful and volatile time, and so are we as we enter this phase in our annual cycle.
Interestingly, Chinese New Year (whose date changes yearly, but generally falls between late January and late February on a Gregorian calendar) is also called the Spring Festival. To the Chinese, New Year is a pivotal time defined by the shift from potential energy to actual movement – suggesting nature’s awesome power to create and its ability to manifest something out of nothing. For many of us in the west, it's no wonder that New Year’s resolutions made in the “dead of winter” fail to come to fruition – how can we expect seeds of change to flourish when they’re planted during a time of year when nothing grows?
Let the arrival of springtime signal the start of your New Year and resolve to concentrate your energy and intentions on the things you hope to accomplish in the coming months. Write them down in a small journal that you can carry with you and look at them often. Be patient with the seeds you have planted and give them the energy they need to grow. Remember, each seed contains nature’s innate wisdom and has within it its own timing and pace to sprout. Plant and be patient. Cultivate with love and understanding. Trust in the process and be grateful for the bounty you receive. The energy of the universe is ripe for change, growth and transformation during this spring season.
In the same way that many of us annually make a point of cleaning out our external environment (spring cleaning our homes and gardens), our bodies intuitively do the same thing with our internal environment. This is particularly true of the liver, whose intense energy is linked with the spring season. The liver regulates a smooth flow of energy throughout the whole person (body and mind) and is responsible for clearing out toxins that have accumulated after a long winter of heavy foods and indulgences. Think of it as a filter – sifting through blood, metabolizing hormones, toxins and dead viruses – separating the useful from the useless. Springtime is an ideal moment to follow the liver’s lead and employ similar discrimination in our life to separate out the emotions, actions and relationships that help us from those that hinder us.
Emotionally, a healthy liver gives us the determination, vision and planning we need to spring into action and express ourselves. But when our aspirations are blocked, and things don't go the way we planned, anger and frustration may flare up and damage the liver. According to Chinese medicine, each major organ network is closely linked with a “sympathetic” emotion. The liver is especially vulnerable to anger, and intense or prolonged frustration can injure it. Resentment, irritation or feeling “stuck” can all build up and lead to liver stagnation over time. Sometimes, a significant health problem can be traced back to a single angry outburst.
The seasonal urge we often feel during springtime to clean out our junk drawer can also be harnessed to give our brains a refresh. Getting rid of cognitive clutter (such as looming deadlines and never-ending to-do lists) has been shown to help improve both memory and focus. Consider purging excess – and often unnecessary – information that we all carry around inside our heads by transferring it to a digital device. Knowing you can always access it later frees up the mental space you need now to learn new things and focus on what really matters.
Finally, spring is also the perfect time of year to let go of artificial stimulants such as caffeine, alcohol and tobacco since the expansive, stimulating energy of the season gives us a natural boost. Take advantage of the season’s energetic imperative by committing to a regular exercise regime. Exercise can help shake off the cobwebs of the dormant winter season by sweating out toxins, naturally stimulating serotonin and dopamine in the brain, and revitalizing our blood and lymphatic circulation.
The energy associated with springtime makes it the ideal time to face the people, things and emotions that have stood in the way of our personal evolution and growth. A healthy liver is key to making sure our personal energy remains free flowing and doesn’t get “stuck.” Repressed emotions and pain should be gently extracted from their depths and exposed to the light of day so that we may consciously release them. This is the true meaning of spring cleaning and why this is the ideal time of year to stop procrastinating and face the challenges that emerge from deep within our being.
Just as the ancient Chinese lived in harmony with nature and the change of the seasons, here are a few simple ways to be more in tune with spring:
Let the Air In
All winter long, the doors and windows have been shut tight, keeping the cold out. Now is the perfect time to throw open the windows and air out the whole house. On the next sunny, slightly windy day, take your bedding and pillows outside to shake out the dust and give them a good airing too.
Eat Your Greens
In Chinese medicine, the liver is associated with the color green. Take advantage of the new spring growth and return of the farmer’s market to increase your consumption of kale, sprouts, arugula, watercress, and other green vegetables.
Indulge in Sourness
Sour is the flavor of both springtime and the liver according to Chinese medicine, so stock up on lemons and limes to cleanse and stimulate your liver. Add fresh squeezed lemon juice or a tablespoon of apple cider vinegar to a glass of warm water each morning to wake up the liver and help it detoxify all day long.
Get on the Mat
In Chinese medicine, tendons are the tissue of the liver, so commit to a yoga or pilates practice that helps keep your tendons and muscles well-stretched. This kind of gentle but strengthening movement also helps stimulate Qi (energy) and keeps it freely flowing throughout your body. It will also help to soothe and calm any aggression or frustration the season has brought up.
Get a Spring Tune-Up
Set the stage for long-term health for the rest of the year with a spring tune-up at your acupuncturist’s office. Just a few treatments at the start of the season can help attune you to the energy to nature’s changing rhythm throughout the year. By re-balancing the flow of Qi and soothing and harmonizing your liver, acupuncture can help bring you back into balance both physically and emotionally.